On Thursday, Skagway leaders’ financial worries sank a proposal to gauge voter support of a recreation center expansion and pool. Assembly members said they needed to focus on more pressing issues, like a pending waterfront lease.
Assemblyman Jay Burnham has advocated for this rec center expansion and pool from the start of his term two years ago. His efforts were stymied once again at Thursday’s assembly meeting.
Burnham wanted to send advisory questions to voters asking whether they support a rec center expansion, and separately, if they support an aquatic wellness center.
“I see this as a gauge of whether or not the people of this town would like to direct us to look into getting a pool,” Burnham said.
This proposal followed the assembly’s rejection a couple months ago of a more binding ballot question. That question would have asked voters whether to approve a one percent sales tax hike to pay for the estimated $17 million project.
But even though the advisory question is not binding, the majority of the assembly was still resistant.
“It’s like having a mortgage and wanting to buy a Porsche,” said Assemblyman Tim Cochran.
Cochran pointed to Skagway’s more than $20 million bond debt. He said soon, the city might be able to pay down more of the debt. That is, if negotiations on waterfront leases are successful. The city is in the middle of lease talks with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. The railroad wants a new 15-year contract after their current lease expires in 2023. If the agreement is approved, the city can expect more revenue.
“I think we should pay down our debt with a few years of the waterfront being intact and receiving revenues before we start taking on some more big projects. Because we’ve got a lot on our plate right now,” Cochran said. “And we’re spending a lot of time at our jobs, at negotiations, at meetings, and frankly I’m exhausted.”
Assembly member Orion Hanson agreed that Skagway tends to “live beyond its means” by committing to expensive projects. But he said there wouldn’t be harm in an advisory vote.
“I don’t think we need to blow this out of proportion and deprive people of the opportunity to say what they want and what they don’t,” Hanson said.
“I think a majority of the people in this town don’t have a clue as to what our financial situation is,” Cochran responded. “Look at the audience out here, it’s not a full audience every time we have a meeting. People think we’re rich. They’re used to getting a ‘yes.'”
The rec center advisory question proposal failed in a 4-2 vote. Jay Burnham and Hanson were the only ‘yes’ votes.
The assembly continued to talk about the White Pass lease. The group voted to make a couple changes suggested by borough attorney Bob Blasco. One amendment makes the city’s agreement to a new lease contingent on ore basin contamination clean-up.
The assembly also asked the port commission to work on a floating dock project description. The addition would help accommodate larger cruise ships and is the incentive behind the White Pass lease negotiations.
Hanson said he hoped the assembly would be able to finish its work on the lease before two assembly positions change hands in the Oct. 3 election.
“I think we have to have the endgame that, up or down, we have to vote on this while we have this assembly sitting here,” Hanson said. “Because we are informed. And there’s a huge education factor for whoever comes next.”
Assembly members Spencer Morgan and Monica Carlson have not filed to retain their seats. So far, there are two candidates for the two open spots: former Assembly member Dan Henry and write-in candidate Dewey McCracken. Incumbent Mark Schaefer is the only mayoral candidate.
At Thursday’s meeting, multiple residents voiced disappointment that there weren’t more people running for office.